FIRST Mentor Network has anyone else tried to use it?

As one of the leads in the Arrowhead Robotics Coalition here in NE Minnesota I’ve been looking into ways to encourage more people to mentor teams. I was excited to see this new Mentor Network database thing and had hoped to publicize it on social media in the region. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to work for what I’d envisioned.

In order to use the FIRST Mentor Network as a potential mentor

  1. You have to create a profile on firstinspires.org (which isn’t designed for someone who’s not affiliated with an existing FIRST program)
  2. Then You have to pass YPP screening (which can take up to 5 business days) and swear you went through the YPP material.
  3. Once steps 1 and 2 are complete you have to create a second profile on the Mentor Network site.

That’s a lot of hoops to jump through for someone who’d interested in mentoring and is exploring options. My YPP had expired, so I actually did spend a day going through all the training materials and had to wait a day for the background check to complete.

I finally do have a profile though! I looked for teams and it doesn’t appear that any FLL, FTC, or FRC teams in Minnesota (or northwest Wisconsin) have submitted a profile looking for mentors yet. I’d hate to be someone who was directed to the mentor network by some goofball on social media only to finally jump the final hurdle to find the reward was nothing. This is a bit of a chicken or egg thing, so if you’re lead mentor 1 or 2 on your team and you don’t have a profile in that system, make one ASAP!

I’ll send in my experience with the system along with comments and suggestions to FIRST on Monday. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go back to plan A here which is for ARC to actively solicit potential mentors on social media and direct any serious inquiries to the teams local to the candidate.

I am interested in thoughts from teams and mentors. From teams, what kind of successful outreach have you done in the past that’s generated new mentors. For mentors, what brought you to FIRST? Does anyone know of successful mentor outreach programs that I can look at to steal ideas from?

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EWCP began exploring the FIRST Mentor Network on 7/22. As we started using the site on behalf of ourselves and our teams, we experienced the following usability issues. We’ve already reported most of these to FIRST HQ. A few have been fixed so far, but most haven’t.

Site signup

  • None of the fields allow input of apostrophes
  • Uses legal name and not preferred name
  • Description makes characters look funky (parentheses, exclamation mark, ampersand) on Safari
  • No character limit warning on Step 2 description
  • Additional useful specialty options for Step 3 - CAD/Design, Scouting/Strategy
  • Limit of 3 specialties
  • Step 4 does not explain why the In-Person checkbox is grayed out.

Navigation

  • “Return to Dashboard” link in upper right dropdown doesn’t work (Chrome and Safari)
  • Drop down menu does not close when you click off of it

Searching

  • No explanation why “In-Person” is grayed out or why location-based searching does not appear to work.
  • Not able to search by team number
  • Program selections not sorted by any method I can divine (either by age group or alphabetically).
  • Program selections don’t list or alt-text age ranges (which could be a bug or a feature–thanks Michigan and non-NA FLL–but seems like it merits scrutiny)
  • Distance filters and speciality filters seem to not work
  • Unclear of what team coach vs mentor view is meant to be
  • It appears that turning visibility off enables the “mentor view” to show teams. Turning visibility on makes it so no teams show up

Mentor profile

  • FIRST Alumni badge is impossibly small–surely smaller than brand standards, but in any case illegible. No alt text either.
  • Profile visibility is set to “Not Visible” by default
  • Profile visibility settings exist in the first place

Profile pictures

  • Profile pictures that aren’t square get squished
  • Uploading SVG profile images is allowed, but result in a broken image
  • Unable to scale or crop profile picture once uploaded for mentor profile

Posting from the coach account

  • Post visibility is set to “Not Visible” by default
  • Post visibility settings exist in the first place
  • “Looking for mentors” posts have a limit of 5 specialties

Messaging

  • Can send an empty message
  • Carriage return keypress doesn’t send the message, must click the send button
  • Unread message notification icon never goes away
  • Email notification of new messages contains no information about sender
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It’s part of the challenge.

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4607 has strongly prioritized maintaining relationships with local alumni, and alumni groups. The future of the program is going to be driven by alumni. Engaging with them, and giving them a platform to impact teams feels like an important step towards improving team sustainability.

More specifically, we’ve maintained relationships with our own alumni, and pulled many of them back in as mentors after they’ve had time to establish themselves after high school. The connections to Bison Robotics (NDSU’s collegiate robotics team) has been great for 4607 from a mentor recruitment standpoint. We’ve also been very open to leveraging our alumni connections to bring in alumni mentors from other teams. These mentors have had a huge impact on our team in recent years!

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Not disagreeing with that, but the current state is that the program is powered by mentors from business and industry who aren’t alumni. ARC has other initiatives to get alumni involved, but that doesn’t help today in Cook or Ely MN where there are none.

Hence my desire to find and then play matchmaker for people who are willing to make that mentor commitment. I’ve got to move forward from where we are, not from where we want to be.

But if you know any alumni who are moving to NE Minnesota, please put them in touch with me.

I’d say the extent to which this is true highly depends on the region you’re in.

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For the original question, I signed up, but didn’t really find the end part much use currently. Mainly, I thought maybe it would include mentor-to-mentor interaction, but seems geared towards mentors looking to help a team. Though as said above, it isn’t easy for people not yet associated with the program.

I did think the limit was too short for a profile description. I also thought maybe not enough FRC specialization were available, it was a little too unspecific in skills with that.

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This definitely isn’t the case for some teams in the region! @zeta is a great example of what can happen when you embrace alumni and allow them to make an impact. I’m personally very excited to see what 2239 can do.

I’d love to hear more about these initiatives and how they engage with alumni to keep them involved with the program.

Engaging with alumni may not help today, but it sure as heck will help tomorrow. You can’t expect first and second year teams to immediately see returns from alumni involvement, but within a few years, it’s highly likely a team will turn out individuals who have a strong passion for the program and want to give back. There are also teams in ARC that have produced plenty of FIRST Alumni that can be leveraged to improve the program in the region. 5690 is a great example… @IanMills is a passionate alumni that has had a great impact as a mentor.

Moving forward from where we are involves some foresight. That includes planning for 2-4 years in the future by recruiting and valuing alumni today.

I think it would be super cool if the leadership in the region made an effort to develop a communication network to stay in contact with alumni. @olsonhomemn had a fantastic idea for a regional Slack Channel specifically for mentors in Minnesota. I added this item to the agenda at the latest FUM board meeting, but I can’t say whether or not it was discussed since I was asked to leave the meeting before it concluded. It would be great to know if anything came from this awesome idea!

I think some kind of communication network would go a long ways toward maintaining a connection to alumni, and by extension recruiting more mentors for teams in the region.

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I recommend seeking out mentors wherever you can find them. My teams draw most of their mentors from their schools, parents of students, alumni of the teams, local colleges/universities, and sponsors.

I could not agree more with Ryan. Some of the most effective mentors I have worked with have been FIRST alumni. While not all alumni are flawless mentors, having mentors who already understand FIRST culture and how to build an FRC robot or run or a team is immensely useful with how complex FRC is and how difficult being a good mentor can be.

Both 333 and 2791 owe much of their success to the involvement of mentors who are FIRST alumni. 2791 is incredibly dependent on the countless hours put in by alumni mentors at nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has even nominated multiple college mentors for the Woodie Flowers Award. With the team’s growth to 120 students in 2019 and a limited STEM presence in the Albany area, I do not think it would have been possible to provide a good team experience to all those kids without the incredibly passionate and knowledgeable alumni mentors the team was able to recruit from RPI. Out of 333’s ~10 mentors, only 2 are not alumni of an FRC team. The team is located in deep Brooklyn, almost an hour away from the high tech jobs in Manhattan (it takes me ~75 minutes to get to 333 from work). It’s hard to convince people who have not done FIRST to make this long trip, especially when there is no shortage of teams in Manhattan and northern Brooklyn who also need mentors. Thus, a large chunk of our mentor base is local alumni, both from our team and from another nearby team.

As more and more students complete the program there will be more alumni who have the potential to be rock-star mentors. Effectively using this tremendously valuable resource is going to be absolutely critical for the growth of FIRST

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The intent is to provide mentors with a sense of pride and accomplishment for signing up to the FIRST Mentor Network.

As for site dis-functionality, we designed the site based upon data from cryptic Solidworks error messages. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-mentor sigh of relief duration, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that mentors have challenges that are compelling, unrewarding, and mostly attainable in the sign up process.

We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Chief Delphi, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.

Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.

(Based on this legendary response from EA)

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177 is mentored by nearly all alumni (both alumni of 177 and of other teams). Many of whom work at local companies such at Ensign Bickford, UTC (Raytheon now), Pratt & Whitney, etc. UTC and Pratt have dedicated folks at the companies who coordinate FIRST mentorship and are in charge of internal communication, in my opinion this helps a ton in recruitment. But what helps the most is enthusiastic advocates on competitive teams.

What helps the most is having a competitive culture with an extremely open attitude to mentors. We had recruited 5-6 new very active mentors for the 2019-2020 season alone. That is a pretty incredible number if you consider that is how many mentors some teams have in total. Competitive cultures also breed alumni who go onto mentor others. For example, a 177 alum was also a founding mentor for 3132, and are likely to mentor other teams as well.

177 is extremely tight knit, mentors are always hanging out outside of meetings, and we have strong communication channels. There is no age divide on our team - everyone regardless of generation is highly active on Slack. Mentors are also all treated with respect and admiration of their individual unique skills and are given opportunities to lead right from the get go. There is very little mentor hierarchy, which encourages everyone to bring their ideas to the table.

My wife and I joined in summer 2019 and we were welcomed with open arms. That is how all our mentors deserve to feel when they join.

UTC is also always highlighting different teams on social media which keeps us in the eyes of their employees.

FRC was established around the premise of strong corporate and school ties, 177 focuses on embodying that ideal, and I believe that is what keeps us strong in the mentor area.

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I am still pushing the Mentor Slack channel forward but it is moving at iceberg pace. My plan now is to try and create a hub slack channel to see if I can get interest and gain momentum.

As for the mentor network, I too tried to create a profile and was stopped by the YPP piece. Haven’t gotten back there to complete it. Hopefully it will get better with use - you have to start somewhere.

My last comment is the hope that we can create a strong alumni network in MN. Ryan and I worked on a social event last year that I would like to continue if possible (stupid Covid) and I think making those connections will help us all grow.

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As always, the FIRST website continues to fail spectacularly. When I try to register as a mentor it sends me to the Volunteer Registration page on My Dashboard, which only contains a link to register to volunteer for events. As I understand it there should be another link to register for this program there as well, but alas the link doesn’t exist. My YPP and all other forms are up to date, and I tried logging in on a different computer. I even tried connecting over a VPN because in the past some of the website features have been US-only, but this didn’t seem to work either. The FIRST website has been complete garbage for a long while now; this is really just one more nail in the coffin of usability for me. Anyone have any ideas?

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I see both options on the Volunteer Registration page.


But to get the right half, I had to re-complete my YPP and process a background check.

There’s one team within 300 miles of me.

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I made an account for my team and created a post stating we were looking for mentors, but each time I log back in to see if anything happened I get nothing. It’s as if I never made the posts in the first place. When I look for mentors, I get 0 results even with a 100 mile radius. I was so excited for this since it seemed like Indeed for finding mentors (and my team could use some) but go figure it won’t work for me : b

Can confirm. I don’t see anything about FRC6763 (or any other NH teams) on the wobsite yet.

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That’s one word for it.

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if you know, you know.

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What do you mean that the FIRST Mentor’s Network is hard to use? I read about the ease of connecting with teams on the FIRST Blag.

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